In At a Century's Ending, Reflections 1982-1995, George Frost Kennan, Professor Emeritus in the School of Historical Studies, recalls the telegram's impetus as the naïvete of the U.S. State Department with respect to the Stalin regime.
"For two years, I have been trying to persuade people in Washington that the Stalin regime is the same regime we knew in the prewar period, the same one that conducted the purges, that same one that concluded the Non-Aggression Pact with the Nazis that its leaders are no friends of ours. To explain all this, I sit down and draft a preposterously long telegram some eight thousand words, if I remember correctly going right back to the beginning and describing, as though in a primer for schoolchildren, the nature, the ambitions, the calculations of these men. It is a grim and uncompromising picture. I wonder uneasily what the reaction will be at home. To my amazement, it is instantaneous and enthusiastic. The telegram goes the rounds in official Washington to the other departments and to the White House. It is even made required reading for hundreds of senior military officers. For the first time in my life (and the last, incidentally), I seem to be on the same wavelength as official Washington."
After working for the U.S. State Department on the reconstruction of Europe, Kennan found himself increasingly at odds with the United States government. While on leave from the Foreign Service, he was invited to the Institute for Advanced Study by its third director J. Robert Oppenheimer. This proved to be a turning point in Kennan's career. For more than fifty of the seventy-five years the Institute has existed, Kennan served as Professor in the School of Historical Studies. Both Oppenheimer and Kennan were born in 1904.